DEVELOPING ARTISTS GRANTS
2013 Grant Recipient
Originally from Gatineau, Québec, Sarah Marchand is a 21-year-old student at Concordia University who will begin her final year of studies there this autumn. In addition to acting in numerous plays and productions, Sarah has been recognized for her creative and academic achievement.
In submitting the nomination for The Hnatyshyn Foundation English theatre grant, Ursula Neuerburg-Denzer, Assistant Professor of Theatre, Department of Theatre, Concordia wrote, “I first met Sarah in April of 2010 at the entry auditions to the Theatre Performance program (acting) within Concordia’s Theatre BFA department. Since then I had opportunity to see Sarah’s progress from a somewhat shy, but determined beginner to a much matured, confident and strong performer. She was my student during her first year of training and I very much enjoyed her curiosity and commitment. In the shows I have seen her perform, she has played both highly physical as well as psychologically and language-based dramatic parts. In addition to her continuously growing ability as a performer, Sarah has also taken on an additional major in English. From what I know of her, acting and performance training is only rivalled by reading in Sarah’s life. I consider Sarah to be a highly engaged and dedicated theatre practitioner well deserving of a prestigious award such as yours.”
In adjudicating Ms Marchand’s performance submissions, the jury commented, “Without question or doubt about this artist, I would highly endorse all support to secure her spot as a professional actress. She is full of risk and danger and her choice of material is far left of safe and centre. The variety is refreshing and her artist’s statement is breathtaking.”
Members of the jury included:
• Nicola Cavendish, actress
• Robert Chafe, Artistic Director and playwright, Artistic Fraud
• Andy McKim, Artistic Director, Theatre Passe Muraille.
* The English theatre acting grant is funded by CIBC.
“For your homework assignment, study the people you pass by. Notice how they carry themselves. Think about where they are going or where they came from.”
What a strange task to be giving a newly admitted undergraduate student freshly moved into a bustling city. Now, upon reflection, I find it a particularly apt way of describing my experience at Concordia. Pedestrians never fazed me when I was going places. At that moment, I realized that it was because I looked at my feet when I walked.
When I was younger, my mother took on the courageous task of homeschooling her three children to provide them with a more unique education. Aside from entertaining the neighbours by singing on the driveway as a child, my exposure to acting was minimal. When I returned to a public school in Junior High, I tried out for the fall play as a way to overcome my shyness. The audition was disastrous, to say the very least – I fumbled through my monologue and by the time I had to perform a song, the judges needed to sing with me in order for anything to come out. Naturally, I was not cast. Rather than suppress the audition as a cringe worthy memory, the experience intrigued me. Despite my introverted personality, I wanted to be onstage. I decided to try again for the following play, this time not allowing my nervous anxiety to overwhelm me. I was cast to play “The Frog Maid” in Alice in Wonderland. It was titillating, transcendent and terrifying. I wanted to do more.
Fast forward another year and I was now a freshman entering High School. I auditioned for another play, this time obtaining a more significant part. The following year, I had the honour to star in my first lead role. It was at this point where my love for theatre shifted from a fun extracurricular activity into something more serious. I knew acting was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In my graduating semester, I played “Ariel” in Footloose. Over the course of three years, I evolved from being unable to sing in an audition to the main character of a musical.
While my love for theatre steadily increased, my grades were not in sync with the growth I was experiencing as an actress. I had difficulty retaining and processing information compared to most students. I would study rigorously for tests and continue to receive low grades. Dyslexia is a common disorder that runs in my family, so when I was fourteen I was tested at the Canadian Dyslexic Society. They diagnosed me with having visual dyslexia. In spite of this learning disability, I excelled in Drama and English. Upon graduation, I received the Drama Award. Since there was no Drama program offered at my local Cegep, I decided to take Liberal Arts. Now familiarized with my learning disability, I developed different work methods and graduated with honours.
What I have enjoyed most about my undergraduate training is the diverse exposure of acting methods. In my first year, I learned techniques introduced by Stanislavski, Grotowski and Meisner. I have also been given the rare opportunity to learn about JingJu, or Chinese Opera. It was surprising how such a different approach to theatre was incredibly beneficial to my Western form of training. I learned how to refine my physical presence onstage and the inherent value theatre possesses in Eastern cultures. In addition to my Specialization, I am taking a BA in English Literature. I believe that in order to understand a text properly, it is vital that one critically engages with the written material. After analyzing numerous plays and playwrights, the major in English has significantly contributed to my BFA degree.
Spawned out of impulse, I was given the wonderful opportunity to take part in an exchange trip to Germany in the summer of 2011. While there, I was exposed to a wide variety of Avant-Garde theatre – notable productions include the Threepenny Opera directed by Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage’s Far Side of the Moon (ironically, the first time I saw the Québec playwright’s work was outside of our shared home province). But perhaps the most memorable piece I saw was set in a small venue and created out of tissue amongst other haphazard products. Regardless of the language barrier, the story had me utterly enchanted. I realized that while theatre can wow an audience with a big stage, impressive set and aggrandized costumes, sometimes the most powerful pieces can be the most intimate. All one really needs is a creative imagination and the will to believe. After witnessing such a cultural difference in theatre, my time in Europe forever changed the way that I approach my work.
My acting techniques change with every role that I perform. Portraying something “truthfully” can be a rather loaded term. What is the exact definition of “truth”? How can one do an honest interpretation if they are not always honest with themselves? My work influences my perception of the world just as my understanding of existence influences my art. To feel, experience, reflect and transcribe moments in life is indispensable. I am far from mastering this practice, but it takes time and, most importantly, patience.
I have heard the common misconception that Canada lacks a clear identity. Having spent my undergraduate studies in Montreal, a city immersed with artistic culture, I can say that this belief is inaccurate. Canadian artists have been a constant inspiration for me. Having recently played “The Soldier” in Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, the work has made a significant impression on me. A text beautifully brutal, Thompson offers three contrasting views on the 2003 Iraq Invasion. After Palace, I was involved in a production of Ludwig & Mae written by Patrick Leroux – a professor at the Concordia English department. A piece that openly deals with the turmoil of a deteriorating relationship and post-university anxiety, I found the work eerily relatable. What is most inspiring about these individuals is their ability to interweave current political topics in a way that is accessible to a diverse audience.
I still get butterflies in my stomach before stepping onstage. I love that. It can be scary never knowing what to expect – what the audience will be like, if all the cues will fall in order, if your lines will run smoothly – but I think that is what makes theatre so fascinating. You never know just what is going to happen. I am growing rapidly aware of life’s uncertainty as I enter my final year of university. I will savour every moment before I plunge into the vast chasm of the real world. For whatever the future holds in store for me, I will always keep an open mind and a willing heart. Most importantly, my mantra will be the short, glimmering gem of advice learned when I first started Concordia: look up when walking. The view is much nicer up there, anyway.